THERE’S a reason Nicola Sturgeon chose Stirling to kick off the SNP’s general election campaign.

The constituency – which takes in rural areas, former mining villages and middle-class enclaves as well as the city itself – voted strongly to remain in the EU in 2016.

It also voted No a few years earlier, but make no mistake, this is a key SNP target seat.

Scottish Conservative candidate Stephen Kerr is defending a majority of just 148, making this the tightest Tory marginal in Scotland.

He said he is “quietly confident” of victory, and contrasted his own local credentials with those of the SNP candidate Alyn Smith, who recently moved to the area to fight the election.

“We are completely embedded in Stirling,” he said. “This is our home. I’m proud to come from Stirling, and it’s been an immense privilege to represent Stirling in parliament and I want it to continue.”

Mr Kerr, who lives in Bridge of Allan, said concern over a second independence referendum is “absolutely front and centre of this election”, closely followed by issues relating to Brexit.

Local bugbears such as planning decisions, transport and broadband connectivity also come up frequently on the doorstep.

Stirling will be one of the first cities in the UK to benefit from ultrafast broadband, and both candidates praised the scheme.

Mr Kerr said the constituency boasts a particularly switched-on electorate.

“Look at the turnout figures in Stirling for the last few elections – they are always way above the national average for Scotland and the UK as a whole,” he said.

Voters in Stirling “know very clearly what the choice is”, he argued. “They can vote for Nicola Sturgeon’s candidate and their obsession with another independence referendum next year and all the division that goes with it, or they can have a pragmatist, local champion like me, who will focus on things that impact on the quality of people’s daily lives, rather than the grandstanding.”

Mr Smith, a long-standing SNP MEP, will hope to hoover up anti-Brexit votes.

He said Brexit is coming up again and again on the doorstep, and pointed to a “palpable scunner factor” among locals.

“There’s an element of a plague on all your houses, though I have to say it’s more associated with the Westminster parties than us,” he said.

Mr Smith also highlighted the clued-up electorate in Stirling, and emphasised his political experience.

“I’m not a rookie candidate,” he said. “I’ve got 16 years of public service behind me, and a record that I’m pretty proud of, actually, in terms of how I voted on different things.”

While local issues are important, he said most people are voting based on what’s happening at a UK level.

Elsewhere, Scottish Labour’s Mary-Kate Ross will hope to improve on her party’s performance in 2017, while the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Greens are also fielding candidates. Nevertheless, this is seen as a two-horse race.

Stirling – a constituency steeped in Scottish history – is preparing for yet another battle on December 12.